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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.3.18

01/03/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "One U.S. service member was killed and four others wounded during a 'combat engagement' in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, the U.S military said in a statement on Tuesday. The incident took place on Monday in Achin, Nangarhar province, the statement said."

* Donald Trump's threat "to cut aid to the Palestinians and nuclear-armed ally Pakistan is not simply a case of saving a few hundred million dollars spent on problems in faraway countries, analysts and former officials said Wednesday. One expert warned that such a move could drive impoverished refugees into the arms of extremists and further destabilize the Middle East."

* On a related note, the president today said via Twitter that Iranian protesters can expect "great support" from the United States "at the appropriate time." No one seems to know what that means.

* Justice Department: "With a deadline looming, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is using executive authority to name 17 interim U.S. attorneys in cities from coast to coast."

* More on this on tonight's show: "Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit against special counsel Robert Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department in federal court on Wednesday, arguing that the investigation that charged him is operating outside the law."

* NSA: "The National Security Agency is losing its top talent at a worrisome rate as highly skilled personnel, some disillusioned with the spy service's leadership and an unpopular reorganization, take higher-paying, more flexible jobs in the private sector."

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Image: BESTPIX - Steve Bannon Joins Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore At Campaign Rally

After Bannon's 'treason' comment, Trump unloads on former aide

01/03/18 02:11PM

As much of the political world knows, in June 2016, top members of Donald Trump's inner circle -- Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort -- met with a group of Russians in the hopes of obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton. The meeting is but one piece of compelling evidence that the Republican campaign sought and received assistance from Vladimir Putin's government during the American presidential race.

And while it's common for the president's critics to raise the alarm about the meeting, it's something else when Trump's former chief strategist uses words like "treasonous." NBC News reports today on Michael Wolff's new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," which includes some striking quotes from Steve Bannon.

In a new book, Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, calls a meeting of Trump campaign officials with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." [...]

"The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor with no lawyers," Bannon said, according to a copy of the book obtained by NBC News.

"Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately," he added.

We now know, of course, that no one from Team Trump called the FBI. On the contrary, Trump and his aides instead lied repeatedly about their campaign's communications with Russians.

Not surprisingly, Bannon's provocative rhetoric did not go unnoticed among his former colleagues at the White House.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump's reliance on conservative media is a festering problem

01/03/18 12:59PM

Donald Trump raised more than a few eyebrows last night, boasting about the size of his "nuclear button," and effectively daring North Korea to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities. But what went largely overlooked was the first part of the Republican president's dangerous tweet: "North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the 'Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.'"

But Kim Jong-un hadn't "just" stated that; he'd actually made the comments nearly two days earlier. What had actually "just" happened was that Fox News had aired a segment on the North Korean leader's remarks, and Donald Trump had "just" seen it.

The Toronto Star's Daniel Dale published a fascinating observation last night, connecting the American president's online missives to what he happened to see on his allied cable news network.

7:48 a.m.: Attacks Justice Dept., Abedin after Fox segment
8:44 a.m.: Tweets to Fox
8:49 a.m.: Tweets about taxes after Fox segment
9:08 a.m.: Talks North Korea after Fox segment
9:13 a.m.: Takes credit for aviation safety after Fox segment
7:49 p.m.: Mocks Kim Jong-un after Fox segment
8:16 p.m.: Urges people to watch Fox show
11:03 p.m.: Live-tweets Fox Business

And that was just yesterday. When Trump sat down with a New York Times reporter on Friday, he pointed to evidence of China providing oil to North Korea. Did he receive this information from a U.S. intelligence agency? Trump said he knew the information because "it was reported on Fox."

Earlier in the day, he said his approval rating at the end of his first year was "the same" as President Obama's. That's ridiculously untrue, but Trump said he saw it reported on Fox News.

The week before, the president expressed amazement that the FBI had reassigned attorney James Baker. He said he learned about the developments by way of Fox News.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.3.18

01/03/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Former Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) last day on Capitol Hill was yesterday, and former Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) will be sworn in as his successor any minute now. Vice President Mike Pence will do the honors.

* On a related note, Alabama's Doug Jones (D) will also be sworn in this afternoon, though in a break with tradition, he's asked former Vice President Joe Biden to be his escort for the event. Usually, a new senator is accompanied by his or her home state's other senator.

* On a related note, Jones, who relied heavily on support from African-American voters on his victory last month, has hired Dana Gresham, a former congressional aide and former Department of Transportation staffer, to serve as his chief of staff. Jones will become the only Senate Dem with a black chief of staff.

* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Mitt Romney appears to be getting ready for a U.S. Senate campaign in Utah, and changed his location status on his Twitter account.

* House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) announced yesterday that he's retiring at the end of this session. Shuster, who's been in Congress for 16 years, represents one of Pennsylvania's reddest districts.

* Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told right-wing pastor Jim Bakker she's "had people contact me and urge me to run" for the Senate later this year. Bachmann added that she's seeking guidance from God about whether to enter the race.

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Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Many GOP skeptics discover they like Donald Trump after all

01/03/18 11:20AM

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) is in a rather unique position: he's the only Republican senator up for re-election this year in a state Donald Trump lost. He also has a track record of deep skepticism towards his party's president, declaring in mid-2016, "Today, I'm opposed to his campaign.... I'll give him a chance, but at this point, I have no intentions of voting for him."

That was then; this is now. The Las Vegas Review-Journal  reported the other day that Heller has had a change of heart.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., readily admits he "wasn't one of the biggest supporters" of President Donald Trump during the 2016 election. "I didn't know him. He didn't know me."

But now that the two know each other better, Heller told the Review-Journal, they have a "much closer relationship."

Heller, it's worth noting, is facing a primary challenge from perennial GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian -- a contest that the incumbent is apparently concerned about.

But the Nevadan is hardly the only one making comments like these. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of Trump in 2016, "I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office." The South Carolina senator has since taken a sycophantic turn in the president's direction.

"I've gotten to know him better," Graham said on CBS's "Face the Nation" over the holiday weekend. "He asks a lot of good questions."

Two weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, "Regarding the president's tweeting habits, I haven't been a fan until this week. I'm warming up to the tweets."

A day earlier, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), by some measures Trump's fiercest GOP critic, told Fox News he had "a newfound empathy" for his party's president and his contempt for American journalists.

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A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York

As drug makers raise prices, Trump's tough talk disappears

01/03/18 10:40AM

Axios had an item this morning on rising drug prices that, at first blush, doesn't seem especially unusual. After all, the rising costs of medicines isn't exactly new.

But there's a political subtext to this that shouldn't go unnoticed.

A handful of drug companies rang in 2018 with price hikes that easily surpass inflation but stay conspicuously below double digits, my colleague Bob Herman reports. Investment banks Jefferies and Cowen highlighted some of the big ones:

AbbVie's blockbuster Humira: 9.7%
Amgen's arthritis medicine Enbrel: 9.7%
Allergan's dry eye drug Restasis: 9.5%
Insys Therapeutics' opioid spray Subsys: 9.5%
Biogen's multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera: 8%

The piece added that prices are expected to continue to rise, and according to the investment banks' analyses, there's "almost no chance U.S. drug price controls will occur in the next three years."

Again, none of this is especially surprising. What is surprising is the fact that the political world has largely forgotten about Donald Trump's promise to tackle this issue head on -- a vow that quietly fell down the memory hole.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Zinke's use of taxpayer-financed helicopters draws new scrutiny

01/03/18 10:00AM

Following up on a story we've been keeping an eye on, most Secretaries of the Interior can go their entire tenures without generating national media attention or political controversies. Donald Trump's Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, has only been on the job for nine months, but he can't seem to stop generating national media attention and political controversies.

Politico reported a month ago on the Montana Republican's latest mess, involving the dubious use of government helicopters. Newsweek  moved the ball forward yesterday.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) says it made a mistake by trying to use wildfire preparedness funds to pay for an unrelated helicopter tour of Nevada taken by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke this summer.

Officials initially said Zinke's July 30 helicopter trip could be covered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Interagency Fire Center, a hub for the organization of response to wildfires -- even though the secretary did not visit any fire zones that day, according to internal emails obtained by Newsweek.

But after Newsweek questioned the line item, an Interior Department spokeswoman said this week that the chopper -- listed in an accounting of Zinke's travel as costing $39,295 -- "was charged to the account in error." She added that the BLM would pay for the helicopter from "a more appropriate account."

There’s already an investigation underway into Zinke’s dubious use of public money for his official travel, and this won’t help.

But as we discussed a month ago, there’s no reason to stop here.

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Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference at the State House, Jan. 8, 2016, in Augusta, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Paul LePage shows how not to respond to net neutrality questions

01/03/18 09:20AM

The Republican campaign against net neutrality has been quite effective, and just a few weeks ago, it came to an end when Donald Trump's choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission helped scrap the Obama-era policy altogether.

For those who take the idea of an open internet seriously, the developments are as ridiculous as they are scary. The Portland Press Herald  reported yesterday on a high school student in Maine who reached out to Gov. Paul LePage (R) with her concerns about the policy. His response was underwhelming.

In the month leading up to the recent vote by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality regulations, Camden Hills Regional High School sophomore Hope Osgood learned about the issue and how junking the longtime principle that all web traffic be treated equally could affect consumers' internet access. While browsing social media, she found an application that would generate a letter expressing her concerns and used it to email a message to LePage.

She wrote, "The internet is the easiest way to access anything. News, information, etc. Companies being able to put restrictions on internet usage isn't ideal! People will be left in the dark about some things. All my school work is internet-based, but what happens if I can't reach what I need to? What about my lessons in school?" [...]

Osgood said she's concerned that the loss of net neutrality could impede her studies. Beyond school, she's worried about the impact on social media because that's how she connects with friends.

The good news is, the Republican governor sent the student a hand-written response. The bad news is, the entirety of LePage's note read, "Hope. Pick up a book and read! Governor."

Ordinarily, Republican opponents of net neutrality try to assuage fears by arguing that the public may not notice the difference. It's an optimistic response, to be sure, but this is generally how conservatives prefer to respond to concerns.

LePage, however, effectively gives away the game. If you're worried about Republicans defeating net neutrality, and the impact this might have on everything from education to commerce, take comfort in the fact that books will be unaffected.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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